Living Large in Small Spaces

Published in the May 2018 Issue May 2018 Multimedia Janet Groene

Houseboaters love their floating versions of the front porch and cozy decks, but full-time liveaboards no longer have other traditional areas to spread out such as a basement, attic and garage. Here are some ways to make spaces look larger or hold more. 

Fool The Eye

  • Mirrors aren’t just for primping, they reflect light to make small spaces look bigger. Mirrors are found in many materials and forms to use in unusual places. Self-stick, lightweight acrylic mirror tiles come in sizes large and small.  
  • See-through furniture makes spaces seem larger. Clear Lucite pieces are available in shelving, dining chairs, bar stools and end tables. A clear shower curtain also opens up the bathroom.
  • Fill a large wall with a trompe l’oeil wallpaper mural ( for less than $100.
  • Have a fitted Sunbrella cover made for a stack of floating cushions and you’ll have a handsome seat or hassock. Put puffy jackets, down vests and extra bed pillows in pretty pillow shams and use them as throw pillows. 


  • The two best areas to find multi-purpose space-savers are in furniture and kitchen appliances. Get a combination microwave-convection oven and a stove hood that doubles as an exhaust fan.  A wand immersion blender takes up little space but it can mash potatoes, puree soup or baby food, chop herbs or nuts, whip cream and make foam for latte. Toaster ovens bake, broil and make toast.
  • Other space stretchers include a sofa bed, convertible chair bed, hi-lo or loose leaf coffee table, folding TV tables, stackable end tables and a toilet with a built-in bidet.
  • Convert a shower stall to a walk-in tub.  
  • Inexpensive, roll-on suitcases cost about the same as under-bed storage containers and they are easier to scoot in and out.
  • Deck boxes come in all sizes. Use as a seat, ice chest, storage box or bait well.
  • “Medicine” cabinets aren’t just for the bathroom. Add them anywhere bulkheads are thick enough.

Add Living Space

  • Are there places on deck you could use more if they were sheltered by a retractable awning? 
  • A custom canvas and plastic enclosure can turn the cockpit and aft deck into living spaces.
  • If you don’t use the upper and lower bunks, remove them and turn that nook into office space, a sewing room or a library.
  • Plumb in a simple kitchen spray somewhere on deck for after-swim wash-downs.


  • Keep guests moving by setting up different stations for beverages, hot and cold finger foods as well as desserts.
  • If you are at a dock, put the marina restroom key or card on a big key ring and make sure guests know where to find it. 
  • An extra bathroom onboard can be used as a serving area. Tie the door open and put a big bow around the toilet seat to indicate it’s not in use. Put a stopper in the sink and bathtub and then fill them with ice and canned and bottled drinks.
  • If you carry a small dinghy or canoe on deck, it can be up-turned and used as a huge ice bucket.   
  • Open the laundry. Can the top of the washer and dryer be used as a buffet table? A top-loader washing machine is also a good place to keep drinks on ice. When the party is over, just pump out the melted ice.  
  • Somewhere onboard set up a separate children’s area with party food, beverages and games.  The master stateroom might be designated as a quiet spot where babies can be nursed, changed or put down for a nap. 

About the Author

Janet Groene is a professional journalist and a member of Boating Writers International. She and her late husband, Gordon Groene, lived full-time on the go for ten years. “Living Aboard” is a recurring column that focuses on living on your houseboat. Janet’s newest book, The Survival Food Handbook (International Marine Books), is a guide to provisioning and cooking with common supermarket ingredients to carry in your pantry. Janet posts new galley recipes weekly at

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